How To Actually Listen to (and Act) on Employee Feedback

A few of the many amazing HubSpotters we hear from every quarter

At most companies globally, employee engagement surveys are where information goes to die. They are long and boring for employees, messy and complicated for human resources team to analyze, and fall way behind revenue targets and customer happiness as a priority, so read-outs of these surveys either never happen or emerge two years after the survey was fielded. As a general rule, most employee engagement surveys are long, tedious, and highly irrelevant for all parties involved.

At HubSpot, we think about surveying employees differently. Simply put, we believe employees have a choice to make in where they work, and as a result that our employee experience can’t just be average. To that end, we survey employees anonymously every quarter using a Net Promoter Scale (more on that later) to determine how truly happy they are with life at HubSpot, the degree to which they are growing as a result of being part of our organization, and their advice for senior management on how we can do better. The result? A survey that’s truly engaging, data that’s truly meaningful, and a management team heavily invested and accountable for responding to the feedback included in a timely manner.

Because we think about employee engagement differently, the single most frequent question I get from my peers in the culture and human resources space is the why, how, when, where, and when we survey employees, so below I’ve outlined the core principles that drive our approach to employee feedback along with context on how we field, analyze and prioritize the feedback internally:

We keep it short and sweet: The HubSpot Employee Net Promoter Score survey is three questions long every time. The logic? We want to ensure that it’s as easy and painless as possible for employees to make their voices heard, so we deliberately and intentionally ensure that the survey is three questions and takes less than ten minutes to complete. I’ve seen countless examples of employee surveys that take hours to complete, and to be honest, I think that’s a waste of time — getting more frequent snapshots of how employees feel is more valuable to me than asking for hours of their time on specific questions that may or may not resonate or apply to them based on their role.

We solve for anonymity: Every field in our survey is optional, so if you would rather not reveal how long you’ve been at HubSpot, what team you work on, the level of management you report into, your gender, or your office location, you do not have to do so. Even if you choose to share all of that information, we strip out any unique identifiers before sharing the data with managers and teams so that, for example, if you are the only female sales engineer in our Sydney office with 1 year of tenure reporting into a manager, there is no way someone can tie your opinion or feedback directly back to you. We have many other feedback channels that are not anonymous, but we keep the ENPS intentionally anonymous to increase the degree to which employees feel comfortable candidly sharing their insights and to ensure that leaders are held accountable to responding to feedback without any frustration or backlash toward employees on the front lines.

We are radically transparent with the results: One of the biggest issues with traditional employee surveys is that the data went into a black hole. Any negative feedback was redacted and you ended up with a glossy report that basically says everything is fine even when you know it’s likely not. We do the opposite: everyone in the company gets to see not just the data analysis, but also the raw comments people submit as part of their answers. Sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly keeps our executive leadership team in tune with what employees are thinking and feeling but also more broadly empowers all of our employees and managers to understand what’s working, what isn’t, and be part of the solution to fix it.

We match analysis with action: In addition to crunching the numbers, the report-out includes an action plan for what we are going to do to respond to the feedback for that quarter. In quirky HubSpot tradition, we bucket the issue with chilis indicating how hot an issue is (similar to those you might see at a Thai restaurant, which is where the tradition was born at HubSpot) and each “chili” has an action plan and next step associated with it. Asking employees how they feel is great, but acting on the feedback they give you is even better — we combine the one-two punch of analysis and action to ensure we make meaningful progress on feedback every quarter.

We believe engagement isn’t good enough: To me, employee engagement just means that an individual isn’t completely disillusioned or frustrated by work, and that attitude isn’t enough to keep a highly talented person in your company or his or her job. To that end, we measure employee happiness instead, using a Net Promoter Scale that mirrors how many consumer brands quantify their brand loyalty and impact. The basic gist of using NPS is this — if you’re “satisfied” at work, you’re likely not going to rave to your friends and family about your job outside of your company. Our role is to create an environment where the problems you’re solving and the people you’re working with are so remarkable that you can’t help but rave about them — that’s the kind of brand loyalty the next generation of work will demand, so we’re raising the bar on what we expect of ourselves to deliver.

We care deeply about the data: HubSpot’s Employee Net Promoter Score isn’t an “HR metric” in the organization; it’s a business one. Every single executive leader feels accountable for his or her team results, and to acting on the macro level feedback included. Does it mean we do everything that’s requested? Definitely not, but we pay close attention to key themes and to opportunities to communicate — sometimes telling people why we aren’t doing something is as important as telling them why we are investing time and resources in other projects. The survey results are included in our executive leadership meetings at a core section and discussed in detail at company meetings so they are top of mind for employees, managers, and leaders throughout the organization.

As I outlined above, HubSpot completes this survey quarterly, and we use a simple survey tool and Excel to do the number crunching (though I should mention that we have piloted machine learning on the aggregate results, so long-term we may revisit that option more regularly). What’s most important for your organization isn’t that you do things our way — how, when, and who solicits feedback at your organization should match both the organizational cadence of your company and the culture of your business. It should also mirror the degree to which you’re willing to follow up on what you hear and the commitment of the business owner responsible for analyzing the data and sharing it with employees.

There isn’t a tried and true recipe for employee feedback, but there are tried and true principles that can help inform how you develop an approach that works for your organization. The only universal truth when it comes to employee feedback is that it breeds humility — the second you think you have it all figured out is the moment you don’t, so listen and respond accordingly.